KHARTOUM, Sudan (AFP) — A Sudanese judge yesterday sentenced a Christian woman to hang for apostasy, in a ruling which Britain denounced as "barbaric".
Born to a Muslim father, the woman was convicted under the Islamic sharia law that has been in force in Sudan since 1983 and outlaws conversions on pain of death.
Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag, 27, is married to a Christian and eight months pregnant, human rights activists say.
"We gave you three days to recant, but you insist on not returning to Islam. I sentence you to be hanged," Judge Abbas Mohammed al-Khalifa told the woman, addressing her by her father's Muslim name, Adraf Al-Hadi Mohammed Abdullah.
Khalifa also sentenced Ishag to 100 lashes for "adultery". Under Sudan's interpretation of sharia, a Muslim woman cannot marry a non-Muslim man and any such relationship is regarded as adulterous.
Britain's minister for Africa, Mark Simmonds, said he was "truly appalled" at the death penalty decision. (From Jamaica Observer, May 16, 2014)
It anyone wonders about the kind of rulings the world can expect under Sharia Law, this story might shed some light on the mysteries.
The new definition of adultery, for example, includes marriage outside the Islamic faith. And for breaking 'the law' this woman is sentenced by a court jurist, to hang.
It is not only Britain's Minister for Africa who could be "truly appalled" at this decision. The whole world would do well to pay some attention to cases like this that are likely to become much more prevalent and familiar, as the movement (and let's not kid ourselves, this is a very strong and irrepressible and inexhaustible movement!) spreads its tentacles, especially into weak and struggling political cultures.
However, we must listen also to the caution of Nicholas Kristpof, appearing on CNN's GPS this past Sunday, when commenting on the abduction of some two hundred plus young women from their dorm in Nigeria allegedly by Boko Haram, a radical Islamic terrorist organization. Kristof pointed to a "conflict between extremists" in both Islam and Christianity, rather than a conflict between Islam and Christianity.
So, if the world is to learn anything from stories like Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag's, it could be that we need to curb religious extremism in all faith communities, of which the Sudan story is only one tragic example. And yet by saying that, and reading that, we all know that extremism is integral to the most fervent and most impassioned and most feverish of religious fanatics in all faith communities.
And, with the west's cultural and political acceptance of and even reverences for "religious liberty", in our case meaning freedom to practice one's faith without fear, and also freedom to practice no faith also without fear, the history of the relationship between religion and 'the state' is fraught with episodes in which extremism from one side is too often met with extremism from the other.
It is no longer enough to "wring our hands" about the fanatics "over there" if for no other reason that "over there" is no longer very far away. "Over there" is of sheer necessity, our neighbourhood too, no matter where we live, given both the enhanced means of communication and of travel that more quickly and more intimately connects everyone to everyone else.
One source disclosed, this week, that one person in four on the planet, (obviously through some research that would not have been feasible only a decade ago) is anti-Semitic, with the largest proportions, as expected, coming from the Middle East. That is a human scourge of bigotry the world has not found a method to ameliorate for centuries. And, as Islamic fundamentalism, including the imposition of Sharia Law, spreads, embedded in that prosletyzing march will be deep and profound contempt, hatred, for Jews. Christians, under the eyes of Islam, are also considered infidels, And so, the future forecast of relations between the world's three major faith communities is not one of sunny skies and soft breezes. With centuries of history in Judao-Christian 'values and precepts,' the west has grown to a position of tolerance of those of different faiths and of those who practice and believe no faith. However, the 'west' with its combination of Jewish and Christian values, most of it somehow living amicably if not in total harmony, has not faced, in such a large movement religious opposition, for many years, as it is currently facing from radical Islam.
And this rise of radical Islam, including Sharia Law as one of the most prominent cornerstones of its movement, comes at a time when fundamentalist and evangelical Christianity is witnessing a surge in its political participation, although there are admittedly signs that the Tea Party potency is waning in the current U.S. election cycle, with "moderate" Republican candidates defeating Tea Party candidates for nominations for the 2016 Congressional elections.
Just as terrible crimes often encourage and embolden imitations, extremism from all quarters seems to encourage and embolden extremism from all opponents. And given the political enmeshment in Islam, of both politics and faith practice and belief, the ring of extreme Islam threatens, not only a former Islamic woman who marries and plans to have children with a Christian, and will not recant and return to her Islamic faith, but the political practices where there is a significant number of Muslims among the voting population and especially those in states with weak or perhaps even corrupt civil and legal systems.
And so, not only is trade linked to our relationships with all other countries, increasingly so too will human rights be linked to our relationships with all other countries, if we are not to permit and enable the spread of such radical "legal/religious" laws to be enacted over the heads of unsuspecting and more moderate and tolerant people.
It is not so long ago that people of different Christian faith communities were not permitted to marry, without paying a considerable price, in the west. It is also not so long ago that people of different races were not permitted to marry, or to attend the same schools (and we are seeing a rise of segregation among many U.S. state and city-sponsored school systems, given the Supreme Court's recent decision eliminating the need for specific decisions to implement integration).
The town of Babel, the Christian story for the dispersion of languages and communities, while providing fodder for intellectual and cultural and political diversity through various languages, does however, continue to haunt the world's attempts to make progress toward collaboration, co-operation, and the establishment of norms that a majority could and would consider moderate, acceptable and tolerable of differences of faith, of language, of culture and of political ideology.
It seems to our neophyte eyes, however, that the intimate link between religion and political establishment of a legal system that includes Sharia Law, a link that is a sine qua non of Islam, will continue to pose a serious threat to already established legal jurisprudence, and thereby to the lives of millions who have become accustomed to a very different and much more tolerant and accepting system.
And litmus tests of how Sharia is likely to impact those in the world considered infidels by Islamic extremists will continue to play a significant part in our education to a new and possibly much less tolerant and peaceful world.